State party reporting: a rights accounting system

For a country that has never been on war, reporting to international bodies has never been an issue, neither have the citizenry been interested where our obligations to international bodies are. But things are changing.

Since the killing of about 20 people by Malawi Police Service after last year’s July 20 mass demonstrations, reporting to the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) and other relevant bodies has been added to the most used vocabulary in the country’s governance language.

After years of negligence or simply ‘I don’t care attitude’, government was forced to send a delegation in October 2011 to Geneva, Switzerland, to give its side on numerous human rights issues that civil society organisations and other bodies had reported.

The reaction has not stopped there, some signs of discomfort have emerged within the ruling circles, that chairperson of the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC), John Kapito, was arrested prior to his departure to Geneva, mainly seen as a ploy to make him fail attend the meetings.

The Malawi Human Rights Commission, a constitutional human rights body, has recently been in the forefront, submitting country shadow reports in the absence of State Reports to several bodies on treaties to which Malawi is a signatory.

Human Rights Commissioner, Marshall Chilenga, last month opened the first ever training workshop on State Party reporting which was supported by the European Union, bringing together MHRC, government, civil society and other bodies on how to prepare, issue, submit and advocate for State Party reporting.

“Not only is this training timely, as Malawi is expected to submit a number of State Party reports on its obligations, such as the Reports on the Convention on the Eliminations of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),” said Chilenga, describing the training as prerequisite for the MHRC, Non State Actors (NSA) and Ministry of Justice staff, who are all involved in the process of compiling the State Party report or shadow reports.

‘Investing in human rights terrain’

Chilenga said there is need to invest in the human rights terrain in Malawi, saying partnerships are required in the country to ensure that human rights are protected and promoted.

Rumbani Jere, senior state advocate in the Ministry of Justice, speaking on behalf of the Ministry’s spokesperson during the meeting, said the reporting mechanism is important for Malawi as it enhances transparency and accountability.

“When government submits reports, we are saying here is where we are. We are accountable in terms of human rights and bodies such as the United Nations which come and see the standards we use,” said Jere.

The ministry’s spokesperson Apoche Itimu, says the ministry has finalised its report due anytime from now on the ICCPR whose session was scheduled for Malawi at the end of March.

So far, the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and the Centre for the Development of the People (Cedep), led the submission to the UN Human Rights in Geneva in October 2011, which government submitted on October 21 through a delegation led by the then Attorney General Jane Ansah.

Reporting process

But how does the process of reporting work? The United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) has treaty committees that review the periodic state reports and encourages non-governmental organisations to participate in the review process by submitting own reports termed as “shadow reports.”

Malawi has obligations to report to the UNHRC on the ICCPR, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), Cedaw, the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the Committee Against Torture (CAT).

The UNHRC comprises 18 experts who are nominated by the State Parties. The committee meets thrice annually in March, July and October and a six-man country task force identifies the issues for each State party being reviewed.

Malawi has only submitted two reports for Cedaw in 2010 and on the CRC in 2009. The country is expected to report every five years on the Cedaw and CRC and the same CESR, ICCPR which is due this year, while for CERD, the reporting is every two years, CAT and CRPD every four years. However, Malawi has never submitted any report to these bodies.

Non-State actors can access issues based on a State report before or during the opening of each committee session. They meet the committee in an informal and confidential setting to discuss the state parties’ compliance with the treaty.

The shadow reporting helps in accountability, education, information and advocacy by civil society groups.

Alfred Majamanda, chairperson of the Human Rights Desk at the Malawi Law Society, says as a society, they had never submitted a shadow report, but in terms of issues coming up now, the lawyers will join the bandwagon of giving their view on the human rights situation in Malawi.

“We started talking about it last time but with this training, we will find it valuable that our voice and input is included in promotion and protection of human rights in Malawi,” says Majamanda.

Reporting a means to an end?

Regional human rights officer for the Malawi Human Rights Commission Peter Chisi says both Non-State Actors and government should not concentrate too much on the reporting process as a way of solving human rights challenges in the country.

“This is just reporting. Our colleagues will make recommendations. If late, there has been a portrayal of reporting as a major solution to challenges. Promoting and protecting human rights should become our second culture. Thereafter, it will be easy for us to report and check each other at such forums,” observed Chisi.

Mike Chipalasa, public relations officer for the MHRC, says the training is the beginning.

“Malawians will benefit a lot from an active reporting of both government and non-State actors. As MHRC, we do shadow reports for every year, it is our obligation under the Constitution,” concludes Chipalasa, hoping that a new era of human rights accountability has started.

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